W. G. B.
Christian Friend vol. 17, 1890, p. 253 etc.
It was the Lord Himself who announced the setting up of His Church. He builds it up Himself, and it will be caught up by Himself. (1 Thess. 4:16, 17.) "Upon this rock I will build My Church," the Lord said. (Matt. 16:18.) We have Him here as a Builder, in Matt. 13: 37 as a Sower, and in Matt. 4:17 as a Preacher.
He had preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." John the Baptist had done the same (Matt. 3:2), but they repented not. (Matt. 11:20, Matt. 12:41.) The Jews having rejected Him as their King and Messiah, Jesus takes the place of rejection, and shows in Matt. 13 the manner of His kingdom during the time of His rejection; and then in Matt. 16 brings out something altogether new; viz., the Church, which is something for heaven, though formed on earth; while "the kingdom of heaven" is for earth, though governed from heaven now that Christ has taken His place there.
It is very instructive thus to notice where and how the Church is introduced in Scripture; for this is the first mention of it in this gospel, where the Lord is presented as "Son of David, Son of Abraham" (Matt. 1:1), and after His rejection.*
*There would seem to be a fitness in the place where and the time when the announcement, "I will build My Church," was made. It was in the coasts of Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16:13), in Iturea, outside of Judea, and even of Galilee. (Luke 3:1.) we are here on Gentile ground, and there the Lord announces that He would build His Church, composed not of Jews only, but of Jew and Gentile. (Eph. 2:11-13, 19-21.) And it is after He had given the Pharisees the sign of His death. (Matt. 16:1-4, Matt. 12:40.)
Men might have their opinions or speculate about Him (Matt. 16:13, 14), but faith alone in Peter; through the revelation made to him by the Father (v. 17), could recognize and confess Him (v. 16) as "the Christ" - the very character in which He had been rejected - and further as "the Son of the living God" (proved to be such with power by the resurrection of the dead. Rom. 1:4). This was the "Rock" on which He would build (v. 18), and it was not until after His resurrection and ascension that He began to build His Church.
We here have the Church or assembly* spoken of as a building and Christ as the builder, apart from all human, instrumentality.† On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) the Holy Ghost descended into the place where the disciples were (v. 2), and as the result of Peter's sermon we find that about three thousand were added (v. 41): "and the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved." (v. 47.) (The word "to the Church" are disputed, but the point is "the Lord added.")
*The Greek word thus translated signifies a gathering out, best rendered assembly, in contrast to synagogue, which means a gathering together or congregation.
†By this I do not, of course, mean that men are not used in the conversion of these "living stones," which would correspond to hewing them out of the quarry and shaping them, but simply that Christ alone builds them into His Church, that mentioned in these scriptures. Had man anything to do with that, it would be a failure as everything else has been to which he has put a hand.
Peter in chapter 2 of his first epistle doubtless refers to what the Lord had said to him in Matt. 16 "If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming as unto a living stone . . . ye also a, living stones are being built up [New Translation] a spiritual house." (1 Peter 2:3-5.) Here is the carrying out of what had been announced in Matt. 16. The stones coming and being built up. No builder is mentioned, but it cannot be doubted the Lord is the builder, for they are "living" stones. No bad material, no rubbish, finds its way into this building. And as "living stones," built upon the "living Stone," "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
"View the vast building; see it rise;
The work how great! the plan how wise!
Oh, wondrous fabric! power unknown!
That rears it on the 'Living Stone.'"
Paul writes in the same way to saved Gentiles, as Peter does to saved Jews. "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord." (Eph. 2:19-21.) In verses 1-3 of this chapter we get the quarry in which the stones originally lay; in verses 5-10 we get the hewing out and preparing the stones, so to speak, and that by God, and in verses 20, 21 they are seen in their place in the building. Here again we find no builder mentioned, but undoubtedly it is the Lord. Who else could "fitly" frame it together? Verses 5, 8, 13, and 19 show us that they are "living stones;" and the work going on, as it is said, "groweth unto an holy temple," agreeing with what we believe to be the correct rendering of 1 Peter 2:5, "are being built up." And the structure will not be complete until the last stone is added, the last believer saved and built in.
Stones do not pass in and pass out of this building, as it were. The chief Corner Stone and the foundation of the apostles and prophets are as much in the building now as at the beginning. "The gates of hell [hades] shall not prevail against it." For if we look on to Rev. 21, where the same building is spoken of by another apostle as a "city," we see the bride, the Lamb's wife, "descending out of heaven from God" (v. 10); "and the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." (v. 14.)
How blessed to be allowed to view this now growing "building in its completeness, then as it is seen descending over the millennial earth." Now the work is going on silently but surely, as in Solomon's temple of old. "And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was in building." (1 Kings 6:7.) But then it will be seen coming down "out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious . . . and the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it." (Rev. 21:10, 11, 24.)
Can you, my reader, say, "Through grace I have been built into this building? I have tasted that the Lord is gracious, a living stone. I have been built upon the Living Stone"? If so, what joy must fill your soul as you contemplate the fast approaching day when the last stone shall be added! With what shoutings will it be put in - as is said of another building in Zech. 4:7! Yea, with the shout and archangel voice of 1 Thess. 4:16, when the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven to raise the sleeping and to change the living saints, and catch us up together to meet Him in the air. Then will His work be completed, and His purpose carried out. Then there will be no more flaws or blemishes seen in what professes to be the temple of God; for, as is said of the Church in the character of His bride, He shall "present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but . . . holy and without blemish." (Eph. 5: 27.) No bad material either - "wood, hay, nor stubble." He never built such into His Church. That which is spoken of as such; i.e., empty professors, oil-less lamp-bearers (Matt. 25:3, 8), will all be left behind in that day; "lukewarm" professors who say, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked," will be "spued out of His mouth" then. (Rev. 3:16, 17.)
What a joy to view the finished building as we find it in Rev. 21:10 to 22:6, in all its beauty - that which He has put upon it, and with which He has embellished it - the reflection of Himself, and to know that I, all unworthy and utterly insignificant as I am, shall have my part in that. And to be able to say too, through grace - and God grant that you also, my reader - that "I am in no other building than that which bears the name of the temple of God," in no system of man's erection, or called "carnal" by the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 3:3, 4); that I am in the same building now, the same Church in which I shall be in heaven. For there are others; others designed and erected by men. There are numbers of them on every hand, "Established" and "Non-conformist" churches, as they are called. So that the one only true and eternal Church which Christ builds (Matt. 16:18) is completely lost sight of and forgotten by almost all. Men struggle to become, and are proud of being, members of this church and of that, but few, alas! stop to make sure that they are built into that which Christ builds, and glory in that alone.
But there is another and very distinct aspect of the Church given in the epistles; viz., that of an inhabited temple. We get this in 1 Cor. 3:9-17; Eph. 2:22; 1 Tim. 3:15. And the history of its establishment is given in the Acts of the Apostles. To trace this is a very instructive study, beginning at Acts 2, and through Acts 8,* where we get the work in Samaria, amongst a kind of mixed people, partly Jew and partly Gentile, leading thus by a gradual transition to the admittance of Gentiles in Acts 10, and thus on to the new centre of departure at Antioch (Acts 11:19-30, Acts 12:24, 25, Acts 13:4), Jerusalem, the old centre, then dropping out of the record; and so on to Rome, the then centre of the Gentile world. (Acts 28.) But it is beyond the scope of the present paper to follow out its details, marking how link was joined to link, the unity of the whole work being thus maintained, as under the guidance of the one Spirit, and all independency of action or of churches avoided.
*It is important to notice that the first authentic occurrence of the word "church" in the Acts (except Acts 7:38, which represents Israel) is in verse 1 of this chapter; i.e., after a last offer has been made of Christ to the house of Israel, and refused, as recorded in chapter 7. The offer was made through Stephen of a glorified Christ (Acts 7:55, 56) to the Jews. Had it been received "the times of refreshing" would have come "from the presence of the Lord;" and He would have sent Jesus Christ for the restitution of all things which God had spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. (Acts 3:19-21.) But they refused Him in glory as stoutly as they had in humiliation, stoning His witness, and in effect sending a messenger after Him to say, "We will not have this man to reign over us," as in the parable. (Luke 19:14. )
In 1 Cor. 3 we get the work of Paul as "a wise master-builder," or architect, in contrast to and condemning what the Corinthians in human "carnal" wisdom were doing. From 1 Cor. 1:12 the apostle takes up their sectarianism, their saying, "I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ," tracing it to its source, "the wisdom of this world" (vv. 19-22), (mark it well, my reader), and utterly condemning it, showing that God had "chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise . . . that no flesh should glory in His presence." (vv. 26-29.) And, after showing that "the natural man" receiveth not, and cannot know the things of the Spirit of God, for they are "spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2: 14); condemning the Corinthians as "carnal" and "not spiritual" (1 Cor. 3:1-4); and declaring that the labourers, Paul and Apollos, are nothing, but God that giveth the increase (v. 7); he shows what the temple of God in its outward aspect down here is, and warns the builders. God had designed that a Temple, not temples, should be built here, "an habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22); and men were to be His builders, as 1 Cor. 3:10-12 shows.
This is not the aspect of the Church which we have in Matt. 16, and the other scriptures which we have been considering, that Christ builds. But it is that of which Paul, according to the grace of God given to him as a wise master-builder, had laid the foundation (v. 10); i.e., in his doctrines, preserved for us in his inspired writings, where he in his apostolic character unfolds the truth concerning the person and the work of Christ - truth which he had received from Christ in the glory and not from man (Gal. 1), and shows that God had commenced a totally new thing of which Jesus Christ was the foundation. It was not an improvement of Judaism. It was not a fresh trial of the first man under new and more favourable conditions. No, it was an entirely fresh start, with "the second Man from heaven" as its foundation, and this after His death and resurrection. It is quite true that others were in the Church before Paul was converted, and that others were apostles before him (Gal. 1:17), but Paul was called as a chosen vessel to a ministry peculiarly his own. He was a minister of the Church according to the stewardship given him of God. (Col. 1:25; Eph. 3:9.) It was in this character and office then that he "laid the foundation . . . which is Jesus Christ," and "other foundation" could "no man lay." No one could relay the foundation, or begin the Church again, even on Paul's doctrines, for no one had divine commission to do so. But others built upon it. However, all were not wise builders, hence the exhortation, "But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon." Paul had laid the foundation, none other then could be laid, but others could build. The builders are divided into three classes in verses 12-15.
First. Those who built in good material by their doctrines; i.e., who built in true believers (for the material, whether gold, silver, precious stones, or wood, hay, stubble, be it good or bad, is persons), receive reward.
Second. Those who were themselves true believers, but who built in bad material (for every man's work is to be tried by fire; i.e., tested by judgment (v. 13) in "the day" of 2 Cor. 5:10, when it shall be revealed "what sort it is.") They suffer loss, but are themselves saved.
Third. Those that defile or destroy the temple of God; i.e., heretics, whom God shall destroy. (v. 17.) Awful, solemn words!
But be the builders what they may, or the material good or bad - "gold, silver, precious stones," or "wood, hay, stubble" - the "building" is acknowledged as "God's" (v. 9), and is "the temple of God," indwelt by the Spirit of God, and "holy" (vv. 16, 17), for the presence of the Holy Spirit makes it so.* Alas! that through man's failure bad material, and so much of it, has found its way into the building. What has not man failed in? In everything committed to his responsibility. Adam failed in Paradise; out of Eden, man declined so rapidly, that in about 1000 years "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen. 6:5.) Noah broke down immediately on the renewed earth. Man then became idolatrous. (Joshua 24:2.) The seed of Abraham, called out to witness against this that "the Lord . . . God is one Lord" (Deut. 6:4), put under law, and into the most favourable circumstances, broke the law, and became more idolatrous than the nations which God drove out of Canaan for this very sin. Under their kings they rebelled; their prophets they killed; and God's Son - the last and highest test - they murdered. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that in the best thing committed to his responsibility he has failed the most. Bad material has been built into "the house of God" (1 Tim. 3:15); and heretics have "defiled" it, so that now "the temple of God," the inhabited temple, the "habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22), is a hopeless ruin. All the more need, therefore, that every Christian worker should take to heart the apostle's solemn warning, "Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon" (1 Cor. 3:10), and see well to it that he is not building in bad material, or on any other foundation or plan than that given by the architect. For "the fire shall try every man's work what sort it is." (v. 13.)† In principle it is true that every man's works will be tried - the believer at "the judgment-seat of Christ" will "receive the things done in his body" (2 Cor. 5: 10), and unbelievers will be judged at the "great white throne . . . according to their works." (Rev. 20:12.) But it is not these works that are spoken of in 1 Cor. 3, but their work as builders. (vv. 10-12.)
*In this we see the fulfilment of the promise in John 14:17 of the Spirit to dwell with the disciples. The promise is of a double character, and the verse should read, "He shall dwell with you, and shall be in you" (or both should be in the present tense, but the first is best). This was actually fulfilled at Pentecost. In Acts 2:2 we first of all find the Spirit "filled all the house;" i.e., came to be Uwith them, and then "they were all filled with the Holy Ghost." (v. 4.) The first we find in 1 Cor, 3:16, 17 and 2 Cor. 6:16: "Ye are the temple [not - temples] of God." The second in 1 Cor. 6:19, "Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you."
†"Every man's work," not works.
What a relief again to the one who feels the ruined state of the Church (the house) of God to look beyond it all, beyond time to the Church in the eternal state as we get it in Rev. 21:2, 3: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men," etc. The Church of God will be the habitation of God, but no ruin then. All in its fair proportions and solid, majestic excellence. All just as God had planned and purposed from the foundation of the world, carried out and completed, a bride fit for His Son, a companion for Him.
But my reader may ask, "If the Church of God is now in ruins, what are we to do?" Thank God, He has answered that question for us. The ruin has been foreseen, although, like everything else, not to be restored. God has provided a remedy, a path for the obedient in the midst of the ruin.
It may be necessary to prove to some of my readers that the Church is in ruins, before pointing out the one divine path in the midst of them. For, alas! men are so carried away with the success and spread of their own havoc, as to think that the Church is more prosperous than ever. By that I mean, the increase and spread of denominations or sects into which the professing church is divided. But "what saith the Scripture?" That is the one and only test for everything. 2 Timothy is expressly written with the future ruin, which God foresaw, in view, and which had indeed commenced in the apostle's day. (2 Tim. 1:15.) There "the house of God," once "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15), is compared to "a great house," in which "there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth, and some to honour and some to dishonour." (2 Tim. 2:20.) Do not the similes remind one of 1 Cor. 3:12 - "Gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble"? Does not this show the ruin? But the apostle is still more explicit. He speaks of some whose "word will eat as doth a canker . . . who concerning the truth have erred," etc. (v. 18.) And in chapter 3 he says expressly, "In the last days perilous times shall come," and there describes those who are to be found in the professing church. We might think it was another description of the heathen, it is so similar to that given in Rom. 1:29-31. Did the apostle not say, "Having the form of godliness"? (Read 2 Tim. 3:19, 13, 2 Tim. 4:3, 4; also 2 Peter 2:1-3.) Such scriptures, describing as they do but too accurately, alas! the present fearful state of things in the professing church around us, leave no doubt on a subject mind that the Church is in ruins.
What then is the path for the faithful in the midst of this? Thank God, "Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His." (2 Tim. 2:19.) And there are still those who have kept His word, and have not denied His name. (Rev. 3:8.) This and the previous chapter are another unanswerable proof of the ruin of the Church, giving in the state of seven then existent churches a history of the gradual declension of the Church from the time of the apostle to the Lord's coming. Commencing with departure from first love (Rev. 2:4) to being spued out of Christ's mouth (Rev. 3:16) the last four churches, describing different phases existing now, run on together to His coming, mention of which is found in each.
What then are the true in heart to do? The Word is very explicit, "Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord* depart from iniquity." (2 Tim. 2:19.)
*I have given this according to the Revised Version, which is here the best reading, and brings out Christ's authority.
We are told whom to separate from and whom to follow with.
1st. "If a man therefore purge himself from these i.e., the "vessels to dishonour"], he shall be a vessel to honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work." (v. 21.)
2nd. "Follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart." (v. 22.)
We are here told whom we are to follow with, and what we are to follow. As to the first - "a pure heart." The word "pure" is related to "purge" (v. 21) in the original. A person "of a pure heart" then (in this verse) is one who has purged himself from the vessels to dishonour. We must necessarily be able to determine who these are in order to do what this scripture says. In addition to character and ways, it is necessary for us to enquire people's church position in order to do this; i.e., to examine by Scripture their mode of association with others for worship. The "vessels of gold and of silver" no doubt refer primarily to believers, and vessels "of wood and of earth" to false professors crept in. But if a believer debases himself in his associations, and acts like a vessel of wood or of earth, I have to treat him as a vessel to dishonour as to my association with him. I should not call him "a vessel to dishonour," but I could not call him "a vessel to honour" while Scripture says, "If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour."
As to what we are to follow - be it well observed that "righteousness;" i.e., what suits God, and "faith;" i.e., the Christian faith, with which Christ's authority is joined in Eph. 4:5, "One Lord, one faith," come before charity and peace. This is a very different thing to 'peace at any price' and love at the expense of God's commandments (2 John 6), which is so highly commended today; but what is "highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God."
We have thus examined scriptures which speak (1) Of the Church which Christ builds of living stones only, and apart from all human instrumentality, the growing Temple; and (2) The Church which man builds, the material being good and bad, which has now become a ruin, and degenerated into what is likened to a "great house" in 2 Timothy 2 - the inhabited temple.* W. G. B.
*There is one other reference to the Church as the house of God; viz., in Heb. 3. In verses 2 and 5 referring to the house of Israel as such in the past. (Reference to Numbers 12:7 will show that it is God's not Moses' house.) But Israel had forfeited and been set aside from this position. In verse 6 the writer assures those whom he addresses that they now occupied this position; that if they no longer possessed it in virtue of their connection with Israel, they held it in virtue of their connection with Christ, as "partakers of the heavenly calling," "holy brethren" (v. 1), "sons" (chapter 2: 10) who were being led to glory by "the Captain of their salvation;" that, in a word, professing Christians now occupy the position of God's people upon earth as Israel had once done; and in chapter 3:6, 4:12, the possibility of their dropping out of that place of privilege through unbelief is contemplated, as many of God's earthly people had done before they reached the promised land. W. G. B.